Jumbos remain unbeaten with close win over Camels

Junior defender Brian Powers possesses the ball during Tufts' 11–8 victory against Conn. College on March 31. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

The No. 3 Tufts men’s lacrosse team earned another hard fought victory on Saturday afternoon, besting NESCAC opponent Conn. College (7–2) by a score of 11–8. The Jumbos are now 7–0 overall and 4–0 in conference play.

After a dominant first two weeks of the season — a stretch in which the Jumbos won games by an average of almost 14 goals per game — their last three matches have proven much more difficult. Saturday’s game was Tufts’ third straight contest settled by a margin of three goals or less. While the opponents have gotten stingier and the scores less lopsided, the Jumbos have nonetheless still found ways to keep winning.

Junior attackers Danny Murphy and Ben Connelly continued their formidable play, scoring three goals apiece against the Camels. Murphy and Connelly, who rank first and second on the team in points this season, respectively, have been key cogs within an extremely efficient offense.

“We are all clicking as a unit,” Connelly said. “It’s not two people or one person. Everyone has good games, but the offense is a sum of parts. Our defensemen get involved, our middies advance the ball well — everyone that is important to the offense has been playing really well.”

Despite their offensive prowess, the Jumbos posted their most pedestrian offensive output of the year by a sizable margin on Saturday: Tufts had yet to be held to fewer than 16 goals in any game this season heading into Saturday’s contest. However, the Conn. College defense and junior goalie Jameson Hill made life difficult for the hosts, allowing only 11 goals in all and just three in the second half.

The Jumbos seemed poised to run away with the game after scoring six unanswered goals in the second quarter, but they were unable to put away the Camels.

“From watching the film, I just thought our stick skills were poor in the second half,” Connelly said. “It is always a combination of a lot of things, but [on] simple fundamental play like ground balls in the corner, for example, we were not making those plays.”

Junior midfielder Nick Katz offered a different explanation, instead giving Conn. College more credit for Tufts’ offensive struggles.

“I just attribute it to their style of play,” Katz said. “We are in attack mode the second we step on the field. They play a much slower pace [that is] more strategic to get their personnel matchups. So when they were able to maintain possession from face-offs and turnovers, they would slow the game down and keep us from building our lead.”

The numbers reveal many of the dynamics that Connelly and Katz highlighted. Tufts lost the ground ball battle 28–23 over the course of the game, only scooping up 10 in the second half. To Katz’s point, Tufts was just one-of-eight on face-offs in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the Camels to slow down the game and play at their pace.

In a game where Tufts’ typically-potent offense remained contained as Conn. College held possession for a large chunk of the second half, it was up to the hosts’ veteran defense and the play of sophomore goalie Mason Pollack to grind out the victory.

“We have a lot of leaders on defense, and those leaders stepped up,” Katz said. “It was a great example of one part of the team lifting the other parts to achieve team success.”

The Jumbos’ defense — led by senior co-captain Connor Lansdale, junior Arend Broekmate and junior Stewart Stockdale — forced 13 turnovers in the second half and successfully cleared 14 of its 16 opportunities throughout the game. After Conn. College scored three straight goals out of the halftime break to close its deficit to two, Tufts held strong, outscoring its opponents 3–2 the rest of the way.

The win keeps Tufts tied atop the NESCAC standings with No. 7 Amherst (8–1) and No. 4 Wesleyan (7–1), both of whom also remain undefeated in conference play. The team will look to maintain its position in a critical four-game stretch, as three of the contests feature top NESCAC opponents: Williams (4–4, 3–1 NESCAC), Wesleyan and Amherst.

The Jumbos must continue their strong play on both sides of the ball in order to stay unbeaten. To do so, they are remaining intensely focused on improving their own game each day, without much interest for the broader conference landscape.

“We try and emphasize the idea of being where our feet are, so we are not thinking far ahead or letting records or ranking build up our ego,” Katz said.

Connelly echoed his teammate’s sentiment.

“Just trying to get better every day,” he said. “That’s all we are worried about.”